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Ballet’s Biggest Matchmakers (Student, Meet Scholarship)

“Everybody told me, ballet kids don’t go to competitions,” Ms. Saveliev said. “Later, a ballet parent told me that when she was looking for serious ballet schools, she would call and ask the school if they did competitions, and if the answer was yes, she hung up.”

This stigma was strong: Ballet is an art, not a sport, people would say. But Ms. Saveliev’s desire to meet ballet teachers and students was strong too. Thinking of annual gatherings of ballet schools in Russia, and of what that adult competition had meant for her husband’s career, she decided to start a youth competition of her own.

The hardest part, Mr. Saveliev said, was to break the stigma and get people to participate. When they called the many friends in the ballet world they had made while traveling around the country as dancers and teachers, even those friends hesitated. Ballet professionals associated youth dance competitions with vulgarity and amateurism, not excellence.

John Meehan, then the director of Ballet Theater’s Studio Company, was the first representative of a major organization to serve as a judge and offer scholarships. The Royal Ballet joined the next year, and the year after that, the John Cranko School, affiliated with the Stuttgart Ballet. Lured by the big names, more young dancers signed up, which lured more schools, and the whole thing snowballed. (The 2011 documentary “First Position” attracted even more attention.)

Now, the scale is unequaled. The finals in New York are — as Tadeusz Matacz, the director of the Cranko school, put it — “a unique opportunity to see all the best dancers in one place within a few days.”

It’s not just about New York, though. Calvin Royal III, a Ballet Theater soloist returning to perform in Ms. Hamrick’s Stones piece, got his scholarship to that company’s school (which he had never heard of) before he even made it to New York. Mr. Matacz signed up Gabriel Figueredo, a favorite to win this year, at an event in the boy’s home country, Brazil, when he was 12.

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